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A PEEP AT PEMBROKE
TO-DAY we will leave North Wales and travel south to take a glimpse at Pembrokeshire, in some ways one of the most interesting counties in Wales.
Between the northern and southern parts of the country runs a stream, flowing into St. Bride's Bay, which divides the Welsh Pembroke from a district known as "Little England beyond Wales."
Here, in this latter region, one hears nothing but English spoken. The towns, the people, are typically English, or, at least, very far from being typically Welsh. This is how a seventeenth-century writer accounts for the fact:
"This same division was in ancient time inhabited wholly by Welshmen, but a great part thereof was won from them by the Englishmen under the conduct of Earl Strongbow, and divers others, and the same planted with Englishmen whose posterity enjoys it to this day, and keep their language among themselves without receiving the Welsh speech or learning any part thereof, and hold themselves so close to the same as to this day they wonder at a Welshman coming among them, the one neighbour saying to the other: 'Look! there goeth a Welshman!' "
The interesting thing about this is that these people of South Pembroke were probably not English at all in origin, but Flemings, who came over from Flanders many centuries ago, and settled there with their woollen manufactures — a trade which perhaps accounts for the superiority of "Welsh flannel" to-day.
These were, like their Welsh neighbours, a very religious and emotional people, and more ready, perhaps, than the former to leave the land of their adoption for the perils of the Holy War. For a writer of the time of the early Crusades tells the story of a certain Archbishop's journey through Wales to rouse volunteers for the war in far-off Palestine; and to him "it appears wonderful and miraculous that, although he addressed the Pembroke people both in the Latin and French tongues, these persons, who understood neither of these languages, were much affected, and flocked in great numbers to the cross. . . . They are," he goes on to say, "a brave and robust people, ever most hostile to the Welsh—a people well versed in commerce and woollen manufactures, anxious to seek gain by sea or land, in defiance of fatigue and danger, a hardy race, equally fitted for the plough or the sword."
Suppose we take a steamer from the charming little seaport town of Tenby, and follow the coastline of Pembroke up to Milford Haven. Romantic cliffs guard the land, and limestone caverns hint at smuggling expeditions in the good old days. Here is Caldy Island, where stood one of the oldest of Benedictine priories; and here, at St. Gowan's Head, the cliff, rising to a great height above the sea, is split up into a narrow cleft by the force of the waves.
Across this chasm is built a little cell, known as St. Gowan's Chapel, from which a doorway leads to a cave in the cliff, shaped exactly like a human figure. The legend says that St. Gowan, a holy man of God, was praying in his cell when his heathen foes came battering at the door. He called upon the rock to be his shelter, and immediately it opened to admit him. When his enemies had gone away baffled, and the saint had emerged, the impression of his form was found in the cliff; and nowadays they say that if you stand in the cavity and wish, and then turn round without changing your mind, the wish is sure to come true.
Now we are entering Milford Haven, "the finest harbour in the United Kingdom," stretching ten miles inland, with its many bays, creeks, and roadsteads. Sailing up the right-hand shore, we presently reach Pembroke Dock, two miles from the town of Pembroke, where stand the ruins of one of the earliest built and strongest of the many castles of Wales.
From its huge towers and turrets Strongbow started on that adventurous journey of his with the aim of conquering Ireland. For many years after the conquest of Wales its grim keep, with its conical roof capped by an enormous millstone, menaced the rebel Welsh. There, in 1456, was born Henry Tudor, one day to be Henry VII. of England, and there he spent the first ten years of his boyhood. There also was his landing-place when he came to drive the usurping Richard from the throne.
Its story during the Civil War is strange enough. Pembroke Castle, under Poyer, the Mayor of Pembroke, was the only place in Wales that declared for the Parliament. But it looked as though this was only done for love of opposition to the majority, for when the war was over and troops were being sent back home, Poyer refused to give up his post as Governor of the Castle, and roused up the whole of South Wales for the Royalist cause, then practically dead. Great must have been the surprise of the Puritans, but before long Cromwell himself was putting the rebels to flight and battering at the walls of Pembroke Castle, where so many had taken refuge.
"A very desperate enemy, very many of them gentlemen of quality, and thoroughly resolved," so Oliver described them. But the well of drinking-water had been captured by him, and hunger and thirst compelled them to surrender. Poyer and two other leaders were sent to the Tower and condemned to death, but pardon being granted to two of the three, lots were then drawn. "Life given by God " was written on two slips; the third was a blank. Poyer drew the last, and, facing death with the utmost courage, was shot at Covent Garden.
It is tempting to take a glimpse at the stately ruins of Carew Castle, another great stronghold of old times; but we must hasten on to the head of the estuary, and thence by land to the ancient town of Haverfordwest, now a flourishing market-town, the most important in the county. Again the most striking feature is the great square-walled castle, concerning which the old Welsh historian tells an exciting adventure.
It so happened that a certain robber-chief was imprisoned in the dungeon of the castle at the time that the three young sons of the Earl of Pembroke and two children of the Governor were playing together within the walls. The game was shooting with bow and arrows, but the latter were so badly made that the youngsters began to lament that no one could make them well enough. Either through a chink in the wall, or by means of his gaoler, the prisoner conveyed the information that he was noted for the work of arrow-making, and the boys were soon his devoted admirers. One day the too confiding gaoler went off to his dinner, leaving the dungeon door with the key in the lock, that the boys might visit the interesting maker of arrows. No sooner were some of them inside, however, than the brigand locked them in with him, and threatened those who tried to break down the door that he would kill the children and himself unless the Governor swore to let him go free. This was done at length, in sheer despair, and the robber was allowed to depart to his lair in safety.
ST. CATHERINE'S ROCK, TENBY
Haverfordwest is the nearest station to St. David's, the most famous cathedral in Wales, once the aim of many a pilgrimage, since "two journeys to St. David's shrine counted as one to Rome." And well it might, since even now there are "sixteen miles and seventeen hills" to traverse before we reach the sacred spot. St. David's Cathedral stands remote in a somewhat desolate country, upon a strip of craggy seaboard, "the loneliest of British fanes." "We descend a narrow street paved with rough stones, we look through a little gateway on the right, and stand astonished and delighted. A wonderful prospect bursts upon us: we behold the whole cathedral rising before us in its stern majesty, with the ruins of St. Mary's College to the right, and the magnificent remains of the Bishop's palace to the left, while the dark rocks of Carn Llidi form the background to the striking picture." 1
The loveliness of the building itself, its massive pillars and delicate tracery, with the grey, purple, and red colours of the sandstone from which they are formed, make it one of the most beautiful of cathedrals; but the most thrilling memory in connection with it is that, when most of England was still plunged in heathen darkness, a cathedral stood in this place as the Church of West Britain and the seat of an Archbishop of the Celtic Church.
The shrine of St. David, or Dewi, the Water-drinker, the patron saint of Wales, is within, and with him lies the honour of transferring the seat of the Archbishopric from its more ancient site at Caerleon in Monmouthshire to this spot. St. David, said by one legend to have been uncle to King Arthur, became famous by a miracle that occurred in the sixth century, when he addressed a great meeting of the Fathers of the early Christian Church, and laid low the false doctrines of one Pelagius, or Morgan, who was leading the Christians of Britain and other lands astray.
As the saint, then Abbot of St. Patrick's Monastery, where now stands the present cathedral, addressed a crowd composed of "the saints of Anjou, the saints of England, and of the North, of Man and Anglesey, of Ireland and Devonshire and Kent," and of many other places, a white dove descended from heaven upon his shoulder. "Upon which the ground on which he was standing," says the legend, "gradually rose under him, till it became a hill, from which his voice, like a loud-sounding trumpet, was clearly heard and understood by all, both near and far off, seven thousand people, on the top of which hill a church was afterwards built, and stands till this day."
This happened farther
north at Llandewi-brefi, but it was this miracle that placed the see
of the Archbishopric to which St. David was at once raised, in
Menevia, as this lonely district was called, instead of at Caerleon,
thus fulfilling the prophecy of Merlin: "Menevia shall put on
the pall of Caerleon."
1 D. T. Evans, " Welsh Pictures."